After scripting several “Saw” sequels, the writing team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton struck out on their own with Dunstan’s 2009 directorial debut, “The Collector,” about a totally different masked psychopath who torments his targets with a number of ingeniously rigged traps. The plot may have echoed Jigsaw’s modus operandi, but we were spared that character’s penchant for big moral lessons in favor of a genuinely foreboding mood and just enough smarts to balance out the inherent silliness of facing off against a glorified Kevin McAllister.
Now, with “The Collection,” the series undergoes a pronounced change in tone early on from tense and claustrophobic to a sequel that’s more knowingly playful and imaginative within something of a willfully reduced capacity for scares. For those who are on board, it’s a more absurd yet equally efficient bit of grisly fun; for those who never were, don’t expect this one to change your mind regarding mindless bloodshed.
The Collector’s one knack is keeping a human souvenir, and the last we saw of cat burglar-turned-reluctant hero Arkin (Josh Stewart), he had become the killer’s latest pet. He manages to escape amid the mayhem of a nightclub massacre -- admirable as a bit of first-act rug-pulling, and the film’s first giddy signpost into tongue-in-cheek territory -- while the Collector scoops up Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) as his next victim. Her millionaire father (Christopher McDonald) won’t see her taken without a fight, and so he hires a team of mercenaries to coerce Arkin into returning to the Collector’s lair, a trap-laden hotel, in an effort to rescue the teenage girl.
From there on out, Dunstan and Melton adhere pretty firmly to the “Aliens” blueprint, with the interchangeable would-be badasses being picked off one by one. It’s an excuse for a higher body count and a wider variety of torments, some of which are easily cringe-worthy (some loosed spiders here, some snapped limbs there) while others verge on laughable (an attack by doped-up zombie-like prisoners). The septic production design and cinematography are more distinctly colorful, preventing a dirty set of environments from looking outright dingy and subtly encouraging a sense of playhouse fun over shadowy menace; with that said, there is naturally no shortage of flickering bulbs to be found in any given room.
As leading man, Stewart continues to walk a fine line between stoic and sleepy-eyed, while team leader Lee Tergesen oozes more traditional machismo and cautious trust by his side. Fitzpatrick makes for a fine damsel in distress, pretty and panicked throughout, although one wonders why her character’s most pronounced trait -- reliance on a hearing aid -- doesn’t see much of a payoff beyond lending an added touch of vulnerability.
The film barrels along to a fiery finale, capped off with an inevitable coda that serves as both an acceptable cliffhanger for a potential follow-up and a nice reversal when taken on its own. I’m not sure that I can see The Collector joining the ranks of revered horror icons in the years to come, but for viewers still not put off by the very idea of so-called “torture porn,” both he and Dunstan get their jobs done with a commendable bit of flair.